Let me introduce you to three of my friends: hallucigenia, opabinia, and wiwaxia. They’re all from the Cambrian explosion, the period of time around 500 million years ago when life was just starting and was still trying to figure out questions like “how should a mouth work?” and “legs?”

Hallucigenia was about an inch long (most life back then was tiny, they were only a few eras removed from being single celled after all) and it had sixteen clawed legs, hard spines coming out of its back, and a wicked tentacle neckbeard. 

Opabinia was between two to three inches long and it had thirty fins along the side of its body, along with five mushroom shaped eyes on top of its head. By far though, it’s most interesting feature was its strange proboscis. Like a Dr. Moreau style mashup of an elephant and a lobster, the long nose terminated in a large claw that it used to grab prey and bring it to its backward facing mouth.

Finally, this is wiwaxia. This danger-artichoke was a two inch long armored slug-like creature with no head. In fact, its actual body was largely just its one massive foot. 

I find these animals interesting for three main reasons. First, it’s incredibly fascinating to see all of the potential paths that life on earth could have taken. Imagine an ocean filled with elephant lobsters! Second, whenever I feel like my life is going nowhere and all my choices are the wrong ones, I like to think that I’m in in my phase where I’m still developing hallucigenias and wiwaxias, and not yet making awesome things like butterflies or velociraptors. Finally - it serves as a stark reminder that if we ever find alien life, there is a fantastic chance it will look like nothing we’ve ever seen before - it might look more like one of these creatures than a human being. 

One of my favorite parts about ASOUE is how morally dubious it becomes towards the end. The Baudelaires end up really questioning their own morality and their own standing in the fight between “good” and “evil.” And then in the fake trial in The Penultimate Peril, when asked if they were innocent or guilty, they said comparatively innocent. This is such a sophisticated concept for the target audience and now that I’m older I appreciate it so much more.

I wanna talk about how Jim is Strickler’s favorite student. How Strickler is a changeling who has no reason to care about this random kid before Jim becomes the Trollhunter and Strickler meets Jim’s mom, but cares about Jim anyway. How instead of getting mad or punishing Jim for not paying attention, Strickler politely goes up to Jim after class and asks him if he’s all right, and then genuinely listens to Jim and offers to be there for him if Jim ever wants to talk again (not only is that super kind it’s also A+ teaching). And how obvious it is that Strickler cares about Jim. How all the kids in Jim’s class can see Jim is Strickler’s favorite. How, even after Jim becomes the Trollhunter, Strickler admits Jim is his star pupil and was always his favorite. How Gunmar and his army begin to question Strickler’s loyalty because of Strickler’s attachment to Jim.

Why is Jim Strickler’s favorite? What made this self-centered changeling planning to take over the world care for someone else, let alone a human boy he hardly knew? What did he see in Jim that pulled at his heartstrings?